Retirement plans prompt changes

Elmira residents may have noticed the UPI gas station on Church Street has been under construction for the last few weeks. The gas bar of the Elmira Service Centre is undergoing a renovation to keep up with Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) regulations. A new requirement demands the station replace the old galvanized pipes with triple-wall plastic piping.

“When you drive anywhere in Ontario right now you will notice gas stations closing down for a few weeks to have the upgrades put in,” said Norm Stanaitis, owner of the service centre.

The station will be adding a new automatic monitoring system to identify any leaks that may occur and shut down the whole pumping system until the leak is fixed.

“It’ all a part of the upgrade,” said Stanaitis, which includes new lighting, a new pump island and pumps.

MIXED FEELINGS Stanaitis, who has worked for more than 40 years as a mechanic, says he’ll miss all his loyal customers when he retires later this year.

The service centre will also be offering diesel when it re-opens.

Scheduling conflicts have seen two of the three gas stations in Elmira closed at the same time, which has provided the remaining station, Esso, on Arthur Street with more customers but has also put a strain on that station being the only provider in town.

“It’s very unfortunate that it happened that way,” said Stanaitis.

“Originally we planned to be up and running before the Petro Canada closed down but plans changed and we are both closed at the same time.”

Stanaitis said it will be another week before the gas bar is open.

All the upgrades to the station will be benefitting new owner Daljeet Singh, who bought the service centre and will be taking over on on Sept. 27.

Selling the business was the first step in Stanaitis and his wife Marlene’s retirement plans. He’ll be leasing the back from Singh to continue to service vehicles for Elmira residents.

“We will be leasing that portion of the centre for a few months until the new owner finds someone else to take over that side of the business,” he said. “We will still be giving the same service we have for the last 31 years.”

Stanaitis began working as a mechanic in Kitchener when he leased a Texaco gas station in the 1970s.

After working for 10 years at the station he and his family decided to move back to the Elmira area, purchasing in 1980 the house he grew up in West Montrose.

Originally an AMC dealership, the service centre opened under Stanaitis as a full-service garage. He would eventually see more than 15 apprentices working in his garage over the years. The service centre currently employs two full-time mechanics.

“Anything that goes wrong with your car we can repair, from air conditioning to diagnostics, brakes and front ends and suspensions,” said Stanaitis. “My crew is well prepared and can handle anything.”

The service centre currently has 12 employees, including part-time students that work the pumps.

“I can’t even count how many students we have given jobs to over the 31 years. We have always had four or five part-timers and we have needed them for after-hours work,” he said. “We would have a full-time shift during the day until three o’clock and then the students would come in and pump the gas until we closed plus weekends. The only day we were ever closed was on Christmas Day.”

The operation will be staying a full-serve gas station under the new owner, who plans to keep using students at the gas bar. Singh also has plans to turn the front of the service centre into a convenience store, as the current store will be undergoing renovations over the next few weeks once the pumps reopen.

Stanaitis has found that the full-serve station has allowed him to stay in contact with many of his customers.

“Business-wise and commonsense would tell you to go to self-serve because there is not enough money to pay your staff in full-serve, but the thing is it keeps you in touch with your customers having that personal contact. We have found that it has helped the whole centre. The front or gas station helps the back garage and vice versa.”

Stanaitis admits he has had a few customers request he holds off on his retirement plans.

“We have some customers that are not happy to see us go but they understand – this is all I have done for the last 40 years. They tell me they are going to miss us, and I am going to miss them. But I am also looking forward to retirement.”

Having seen a lot of changes over the last 40 years in business especially in the price of gas, Stanaitis is glad he is no longer the one customers will be complaining to about the price of gas increasing.

“The station has been a great experience and has been good to our family, myself, Marlene and my son Joe are very grateful for all the service we could provide Elmira. I would not have been a part of it for over 40 years if I did not enjoy it.”

Stanaitis plans to spend much of his newfound free time on his seven-acre hobby farm and up at his cottage.

“We have a lot of stuff to do. We are just looking forward to retiring and spending time together away from the centre, but we will miss our loyal customers.”

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